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WOW Gospel #1s
Artist: Various
Label: Zomba Recording  / Verity Records
Time: Disc 1- 16 tracks /69:47    Disc 2 – 14 tracks/73:57
WOW Gospel #1s is sub-titled “30 OF THE GREATEST GOSPEL HITS EVER.”  Ok – we know that that’s not gonna’ happen. Maybe these are the 30 greatest ‘gospel hits’ from the Zomba Label Group ….maybe. Naturally, a collection of thirty tracks is going to have some hits and some misses, and that’s exactly what you get here. The songs date all the way back from ’94 and take us pretty much up to the present day, overlapping, at times, this year’s WOW GOSPEL 2007 compilation.
Disc one comes off as the strongest of the double-disc set, although the second disc starts cooking with a couple of high-powered solo artist tracks, following a rather tepid start. All of the strengths and weaknesses of the ‘modern’ black gospel music genre are evident as you listen throughout the project. In this summing-up of the current wave of new gospel superstars there seems to be a tension between technology and visceral human energy – ‘soul,’ if you will – that divides the musical wheat from the chaff. If ‘soul’ music is music that communicates from one heart to another, then an artist has to be careful to leave the heart both unguarded and unobstructed.
WOW GOSPEL # 1s starts strong, featuring the up-beat, youthful, more ‘urban gospel’ sounds of the dynamic Kirk Franklin performing the irresistible live version (and what better way to record Kirk, than live?) of “Brighter Day,” followed by Mary Mary with the super-crossover hit, “Shackles (Praise You).”  Next up is the amazing ‘little kid’ of the current crop of frighteningly good singers - Kierra ‘Kiki’ Sheard, followed by the unique Myron Butler and Levi, and then the energetic, fun, funky Ty Tribbett with his infectious “No Way.” If the rest of the collection remained at the same level as the first 5 tracks, it would be quite a party, and there are many more very good tracks throughout, but the first volley of songs steals the show from the rest of the collection.
The balance of the project contains a little bit of everything you’d expect: there are dynamic solo performances from the likes of the always astonishing Donnie McClurkin (here, doing the classic, “Stand”), Yolanda Adams, Karen-Clark Sheard, Smokie Norful, Dorinda Clark-Cole (an amazing, energetic romp with “You Can’t Hurry God”), and Vanessa Bell-Armstrong (a gospel/jazz powerhouse); there are choirs, both fired up (New Life Community Choir) and over-processed (The Tri-City Singers); there are the new breed of dramatic balladeers as well, some maudlin and self-indulgent, some, like J Moss and George Huff, tasteful and impressive. A major disappointment was the puzzling choice of “Strong Man,” to represent the usually wonderful, dynamic Shirley Ceasar, who comes off here as a mere echo of her usual self.
Are these _really_ the best gospel hits ever? Not when you leave out landmark songs like The Clark Sisters’ crossover mega-hit, “You Brought the Sunshine,” or The Hawkins family’s “Goin’ Up Yonder,” or The Winans’ “It’s Time,” or “Tomorrow,” or any number of songs by Andrae Crouch. Still, this almost two-and-a-half hour double-disc set does have some wonderful tracks worth the effort of hitting the ‘skip’ button to get to, and to get down to.
By Bert Saraco 



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